I have seen the industry up close since I was very young. Adi (Aditya Chopra) and I were in school together. He has had a huge influence on me. His mother, Pam aunty, had a huge movie collection, which nurtured his film appetite. I remember spending a lot of time with him, discussing films and cinema,” says Abhishek Kapoor. The 48-year-old has to his credit Rock On, Kai Po Che! and Fitoor, among others. When we meet him in New Delhi, at the promotion of his forthcoming release, Kedarnath, he discusses nepotism, freedom of expression and why faith has no religion. Excerpts:
Kedarnath is based on the eponymous Shiva temple and has the 2013 floods in focus. We have not seen a Bollywood film, which touches upon pilgrimage as a theme, in a while.
As a child, my parents would take me to Vaishno Devi. But I had no idea, ki hum kyun ja rahen hain (why are we doing this?). These yatras were seeped in Hindu philosophy, and to understand it, you need evolved thought. You realise that all the gods embody qualities that lie within us as humans, and we need to awaken those gods within us. After my last trip (Fitoor), I made a solo trip to Vaishno Devi, and I saw some unique things. This is India, the moment you step out of the city, you meet people for whom you are making these films. Stories emerge from these experiences. For example, the Char Dham yatra, people come from all over, from all walks of life. They have this as a dying wish, completing it is a big deal. The flash floods of 2013 was a calamity of a large magnitude, while many lives were saved by the Indian Army, there were about a 100,000 people who went missing. These ideas came together.
Kedarnath also comments on the division our country is experiencing, along religious lines.
For many of the yatris, they complete this yatra in their old age. They are not able to make the arduous journey by themselves. They have to hire a horse or a pithoo, a piggyback ride. Many of these pithoos are Muslims, they have been helping these people in their quest of faith. In these times, where a constant divide is being created on religious lines, here at a place of such deep religiousness, people were so inclusive.
I saw it and found it very endearing. Upar sab theek rehta hai, darshan karte hain, par neeche aate hi, pata nahi kaisi baatein karne lagte ho (When you get there, you’re praying, and then when you return, I don’t know where that kind of talk comes from) . It’s just like the Ganga, up in the hills, it’s all pure and clean, but by the time it comes down, look at what we do to it. Inclusiveness is at the very core of Hinduism, we can’t lose it.
Were you apprehensive about the film, that it might ruffle feathers, in the current political climate? A case was also filed, and words like ‘love jihad’ were also thrown around.
We have not received anything on that account. I have nothing to fear, as we have not provoked anyone, and to set the record straight, there is no love jihad in the film. The intention of the film is to heal people, and what is a better way to heal than love?
Is the film industry afraid, given Padmaavat and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil did not have easy releases?
I think it depends on the filmmaker. You should have something to say, many mainstream films are just made. I don’t think that the climate outside the industry is stopping them from saying something. I do believe that we are a great democracy, I have a lot of faith in the judiciary and the system.
You have cast Sara Ali Khan, a star kid, in the lead.
I know nepotism is a big thing in the business. But I have never operated and worked with it. Her parents are not my friends, she is not my friend. I have also cast Sushant. I cast him earlier as well, and he came from TV, which was a taboo of sorts at the time. I gauged Sara. Kedarnath is a big, important film, and she needed to have very able shoulders to carrythat part.
Your films are as mainstream as they get, but they also touch upon social and political issues. Is that something deliberate, or a happy byproduct?
I am aware of the political and social issues that my films touch on. But I am not trying to force a political commentary. I am, for myself, trying to understand, what is important in all of this. I just think one should not to be swayed by people’s agendas. I try and stay true to what my belief is.